A big thanks to Olivier Fortier (Marine Press of Canada), Julien Roux (Devoteam), Eric De Carufel (Pyxis Technologies) and Eric Charest (GSOFT) for their inspiring and original suggestions for brainstorming techniques.
Have you ever gotten the feeling that your meetings either overstay their welcome or never end up producing any tangible results? Have you ever heard employees voice their discontent when being invited to yet another meeting? Are you struggling to find ideas to keep your audience engaged?
Have you ever thought of trying new brainstorming techniques instead?
Not only will it help you spice up your meetings but these ideas will also help you make sure that they actually yield results.They are definitely worth a shot!
I’ve interviewed 4 agile experts that have worked in multiple Quebec-based startups to find out more about their favorite brainstorming techniques.
Based on their suggestions, I’ve narrowed down the list to 4 techniques to help stimulate your employees’ creativity. Why not try them out during your next meeting?
« Remember The Future » : helping anticipate risks tied to important decisions
Olivier Fortier – Marine Press of Canada
Begin by planning out the subject of the meeting. Perhaps you’re looking to make your product or services better or simply to grow your team. To accomplish this, Olivier recommends the “Remember The Future” technique.
Think about the future of your product, services or team. How to you envision it? What do you need to do to accomplish this vision?
How it works
- Distribute a few sheets of paper or post-it notes to all participants
- Determine a timeline: 1 week, 1 month, 1 year, etc.
- Step 1: Ask participants to note the elements that will make your product, services or team even better. Ask yourself what would make managers, employees or customers happier and ask them to be as detailed as possible.
- Step 2: Group similar ideas together and categorize them into themes.
These themes will become the guidelines for your action plan. All that will be left to do is prioritize the order in which you want to accomplish them.
*Be careful with the words you use to define your question as these can have an influence on the answers you’ll be given. A question such as “What should the product do?” will generate much different answers than “What should the product have done?”
By imagining the future, you’ll have a better idea of the impacts and risks your initiatives will have. Among all the brainstorming techniques covered in this article, this is the one that will best help you prepare for changes within your organization.
“This activity helps give us a direction to help us reach our goals. We can also ask the opposite question: “What is the worst that could happen?”. This method helps make the product, service or team much less fragile”. – Olivier Fortier, MarinePress
« The Lotus Blossom » : Helping address problems while remaining in a zen state of mind
Julien Roux – Devoteam
Are you facing an issue you need to resolve but have no idea how to find the solution? “The Lotus Blossom” is among the most popular brainstorming techniques in Japan. Invented by Yasuo Matsumura, it consists in identifying an initial problem, its causes and finding solutions to address it.
It is one of the best brainstorming techniques in terms of encouraging discussions when you have a large number of participants. It is recommended to set a time limit for each of the steps. Depending on how long you have, you can set a time limit between 10 and 15 minutes for each step.
How it works
- Draw a tic-tac-toe board on a sheet of paper, creating 9 different boxes.
- Put a colored post-it note in the center box and add differently-colored post-its to the 8 other boxes. Your board should now look like a flower.
- Write down the main problem you’re looking to address on the middle post-it.
- Step 1: Ask participants to enumerate the causes of the problem and write them out on the 8 post-its surrounding the center one.
- Step 2: Ask participants to vote for the most important causes. Remove the 4 post-its least voted on.
- Divide participants into 4 groups and give each group one of the remaining 4 causes. They must then create their own flower based on their respective causes.
- Step 3: Each group must then propose solutions to their new problem and write them out on the 8 petals of their own, new lotus blossoms. This way, ideas are found to address each of the causes of the initial problem.
Having many participants in a brainstorming meeting generally makes it more difficult. The lotus flower technique allows you to hold a brainstorming meeting with both small and large groups of participants.
All employees also feel included in the problem resolution process. This technique allows people to think out their solutions thanks to the group-thinking process.
This technique is quite a visual one, dependencies and actions are easy to identify at a glance. It is also quite easy to organize.
“Definitely one of my favorite brainstorming techniques. It is the one that works best with all the types of groups I’ve worked with”. – Julien Roux, Devoteam
« The Perfection Game » : obtaining feedback
Eric De Carufel – Pyxis Technologies
Brainstorming meetings can be useful when you’re looking to receive feedback from your employees. With “The Perfection Game” brainstorming technique, you’ll be able to determine the strengths of past initiatives as well as discover ways to make them even better.
How it works
- Define the subject of the meeting. This can be a new functionality being added to your product or covering a team activity that you’ve recently organized.
- Step 1: Ask participants to grade their appreciation of the subject on a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 meaning that everything must be changed and 10 meaning that everything is perfect as it is.
- Step 2: As a team, build a list of all of the qualities and strengths of the subject.
- Step 3: Ask employees which actions they’d perform to move the rating of the subject all the way up to 10 while abstaining from any negative comments
It is quite realistic to think that brainstorming activities can quickly devolve into high-complexity affaires. “The Perfection Game” keeps things simple and requires very little explanation.
It allows you to shed light on the strengths of your subject while keeping it in a positive light rather than focusing on negative criticism.
“At Pyxis Technologies, we’ve used this brainstorming technique to define a manifest. It is extremely efficient when it comes to keeping sight on everyone’s perspective”. – Eric De Carufel, Pyxis Technologies
« World Café » : Ensuring every member of a large group gets to participate
Eric Charest – GSOFT
If you have more than 10 participants in your meeting, the “World Café” brainstorming technique is ideal. If you know that many participants are intimidated by speaking in front of large groups, this method will allow them to discuss your subject in small groups.
How it works
- Group your employees into teams of 4 or people
- Each team then stands up next to a table covered by a sheet where they can write out ideas, symbols or drawings.
- State the question you wish to ask your employees. For example, you can ask them which methods they would like to use to reach their team’s goals.
- Step 1: Allocate a specific amount of time for each small team (10 to 20 minutes) during which each member must propose answers to your intial question.
- Step 2: Once time runs out, ask each team to split up and form new teams (the way this is done can also be planned in advance). One member of each team must remain at their table to share the ideas proposed during step 1. He will become the de-facto “host” of his table.
- Allocate another 10 to 20 minutes for each newly-formed team to perform the activity. Switch the teams around as many times as their are tables.
- Step 3 (optional): If you have enough time to do so, group up all of the proposed ideas. You can also ask employees to prioritize them based on a timeline, as seen below:
The “World Café” is one of the best brainstorming techniques to allow each member of large groups to participate equally. Employees who do not like speaking in front of many people can thus have their thoughts and ideas heard at large.
This technique is quite an interactive one due to the amount of moving around and because it is recommended to remain standing up during the meeting. No one will ever be bored during the “World Café”!
“I am a strong believer in using collective intelligence to shed light on a vast number of issues with multiple groups of individuals at the same time. The exchanges generated by this technique are of great value and help us push our projects forward”. – Eric Charest, GSOFT
Despite the many brainstorming techniques used across the world, it is important to use the one that is best suited to the objective of your meeting. It is also to keep in mind the personality type of participants in order to keep them active, stimulated and participative.
If none of the brainstorming techniques in this article seem suited to your needs, I’d recommend taking a look at the Gamestorming website which is bound to inspire you with new ideas.
How about you? What are your favorite brainstorming techniques?